NEA Files: Lot 55–D36

Draft Notes for Remarks by the United Kingdom at the Opening of the United States–United Kingdom Talks on the Middle East

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Mr. Acting Secretary of State: We on our side are equally happy to have this opportunity to talk over frankly and informally our common problems relating to certain areas of the Mediterranean and the Middle East. We are in full agreement on the scope and objectives of these talks as you have stated them. We agree also on the procedure which you suggest. Our representatives at the meetings with members of the Department of State will be Sir John Balfour,1 Mr. [Page 566] Wright, Mr. Allen2 and Mr. Bromley,3 with such assistants as they may call upon from time to time. Military representation at these meetings, and conversations between military representatives without the attendance of the political representatives can be arranged as you suggest.

And now I may perhaps say a few words to indicate the general lines on which our minds are working.

There lies between the western countries and the countries which are Communist or Communist controlled, a [kind of]4 crescent of middle lands stretching from Scandinavia through Europe, the Middle East and South East Asia to the Far East, whose orientation will either be towards Western ideas or towards Communism. It is in our view essential that the approach of our two countries towards these peoples, on whom the preservation [issues] of peace so largely depends, should be co-ordinated and that we should work together on a constructive basis in a spirit of complete understanding and cooperation.

In these [particular] talks we are concerned with one segment of this crescent, namely the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East.

In this segment we on our side are confronted with a number of problems which are of vital importance to our future and to the future of peace. On one or two occasions lately [in recent past] you have said to us reproachfully that we have only informed you at the last moment of decisions we had taken on matters of interest to us both. We want to be sure that in the area which we are now discussing there should be no ground for such reproach between us. We should like to have the fullest possible consultation and discussion with you before we crystallise our own policy and take any final decisions.

Our basic problem in the Middle East is as follows. Our Chiefs of Staff inform our Government that in the event of any major power violating the Charter and resorting to war, the Middle East will, as proved to be the case in both the last wars, be a strategic theatre second only in importance, or perhaps equal in importance, to the United Kingdom. The reasons which they adduce are not merely that the Middle East is a vital theatre of communication for the Commonwealth, or that it contains vital supplies of oil, although both these reasons are valid. But they adduce the still more important argument that in meeting future aggression conditions of modern warfare will not permit of merely passive or even active defence, but require counter [Page 567] offence. The Middle East is perhaps the one area from which offensive action could be taken, both to relieve the pressure of attack on the United Kingdom and from which to strike at the aggressor where he is vulnerable.

The Chiefs of Staff go on to say that if the Middle East is to play this role in action against a possible aggressor it is essential, as was again proved during the last war, for us to maintain strategic facilities in the Middle East in peace time. In other words, we must not only maintain bases in Africa, at Aden and at other places within reach of the Middle East, but must have advanced bases in peace time in the Middle East area itself.

But if we are to possess the strategic facilities in the Middle East in peace time, they must be located somewhere.

We are therefore brought squarely up against a perfectly definite and concrete issue. Either we must obtain or maintain the requisite strategic facilities [in certain definite localities] in the Middle East in peace time or withdraw strategically from the Middle East altogether.

At this point strategy merges with politics. It does not appear probable that we can maintain the strategic facilities we require either in Egypt or in Palestine. We have two air bases in Iraq and hope to reach agreement with the Government of Iraq for maintaining at least modified rights there. We also have treaty rights in Transjordan and there are always possibilities of certain rights in the Persian Gulf. We shall certainly wish to maintain rights in the Sudan. But without Egypt or Palestine these are insufficient, [not enough,] since they would leave us without the essential rights in the southeastern corner of the Mediterranean. The whole question whether we can retain adequate strategic facilities in the Middle East in peace time therefore turns upon Cyrenaica.

Cyrenaica is therefore the first question we want to talk over with you, since upon it so many others depend. There are roughly speaking two means by which we could obtain what we need. The first would be by a British trusteeship for Cyrenaica [in Libya]. This, under the Italian peace treaty, would require either the consent of the four powers within the year or, failing that, the consent of the Assembly. Apart from possible objections on the part of some countries there is the further complication that an ordinary trusteeship would not normally provide for the full strategic facilities we should require, and that a strategic trusteeship would need the approval of the Council. The second course would be to work for the early independence of Cyrenaica, and then to conclude a treaty with Emir giving us the facilities we require. There are of course variants to these alternatives, such as a temporary trusteeship to be followed by early independence [Page 568] and a treaty. And lastly there is the possibility that we might prevent any other solution being adopted and simply retain the necessary strategic facilities by default under Article 23 (ii) of the Italian peace treaty.

I need hardly add that the question of Cyrenaica is intimately linked with others. We have to consider the attitude of the Soviet Union, of France, and of the Arab States; and we can hardly take a decision about Cyrenaica without also clearing our minds on Tripolitania and on the future of the other former Italian colonies.

Here perhaps you will allow me to make a suggestion about possible procedure. Since all the other problems in the Middle East are dependent upon this vital strategic problem of bases, and in particular Cyrenaica, might it be wise to have these studied first both from the strategical and the political angle? In other words, the first points we should like to put to you are as follows. Do you agree that it is of essential importance to us both that we [Britain] should remain in the Middle East rather than withdraw? If we are to remain, do you agree that it is essential that we should possess the necessary strategic facilities in Cyrenaica in peace time, in addition to other facilities elsewhere than in Egypt and Palestine? If so, can we work out a common approach to the problem and agree to work together for whatever solution commends itself to us after further study as being the most practicable? And finally, do you agree, in studying the question of Cyrenaica, we should simultaneously study the questions of other bases in the Middle East and of the Italian colonies other than Cyrenaica, all of which more or less hang together? When we have examined these problems, we could go on to examine other problems in the area.

  1. British Minister in the United States.
  2. William D. Allen, Counselor of the British Embassy.
  3. Thomas E. Bromley, First Secretary of the British Embassy.
  4. The bracketed portions in this paper seem to represent insertions or changes in the original draft notes and were presumably included in Lord Inverchapel’s actual remarks.